Witold's Blog

“Hotel California”, and my take on this iconic song

Probably one of the best songs from the 70’s. Maybe one of the best ever.

Here is one of its original performances.

Main theme composed out of three notes. Just three notes! A brilliant guitar solo, in the opinion of many also one of the best. Humongous crowds listening to the band which played, at their own admission, on coke and booze. The enigmatic meaning behind the lyrics creating as many interpretations as there are interpreters. And when the members were asked about the intention of the song, they said – many meanings to many people – with the smile. “Vaguery,” they said, “is the primary tool of songwriters.” That’s the easy answer.

So everyone will come up with his or her own.

I have one too. For me, this song is about the mental disease and alcohol. It’s about the addiction.

The hero is traveling the journey of his life “on a dark desert highway,” let’s say 101 freeway in Ventura County. A sweet smell of “colitas” is the smell of pot. The mysterious lady symbolizes the addiction and Hotel California is Camarillo State Hospital, a now-defunct mental hospital in Camarillo. The voices behind the wall are the sounds of the other addicts, locked up with the same vice, most probably people with mental disease. “We are all prisoners here of our own device.” They gather for a feast, try to kill the habit with their steely knives, but they can’t kill the beast. There is no letting go of addiction. “You can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave.” Pretty boys dancing with the lady are mental patients with deadly dependence. “Some dance to remember, some dance to forget.”

If one looks at the history of the treatment of somatic diseases, like heart disease or infections, we’ve come a long way from, let’s say, the end of 19th century. Not so with mental diseases. We still don’t know the exact mechanism of the problem. And since we don’t know the cause, the treatment is just a trial and error exercise.

Same about addiction. At least we don’t blame the individual for the condition and don’t lock him up. Well, may be not so often as before. But still, in the words of my favorite philosopher, Mitch Hedberg, “Alcoholism is the only disease you will get yelled at for having.”.

I don’t know about the band’s mental problems, but for sure they could write a book about addiction. In a recent interview, they admitted they don’t remember much from the drug era performances and certainly don’t understand how they could play on so much dope.

But then, again, when you look at the careers of the many American iconic writers, how often were they sober while writing. Editing is a different story.

As for the best guitar solo, I think the one from “Born with a broken heart” may be better.